Six years ago, Mayor William D. Euille had big health plans for the city of Alexandria. It was time for people to get off the couch and get in shape.
“I was eager to launch a physically fit campaign for Alexandria and deliver a positive, strong message against childhood obesity,” Euille says.
But there was one small problem. At five-foot-nine and 255 pounds, Euille knew his pants were just a bit too snug: “I wasn’t obese or anything, but I felt like I was carrying extra weight and needed to get rid of it.”
The mayor realized that before he could tell others to improve their health, he first needed to take his own advice so he could eventually lead by example. His goal was to shave off ten pounds.
He started playing racquetball two to three times a week and the occasional pickup basketball game at the local YMCA. But for Euille and a trainer who had been eyeing the mayor’s exercise routine, that wasn’t enough.
Euille built up a support team to help him lose those ten pounds. A trainer took Euille’s initial measurements. His waist size was 42 inches and his body-mass index was 31—a BMI of 30 or more is considered obese.
Without much time to work out, Euille asked how long it would take to shed the weight.
He was told six months—it only took three and a half.
“I was on to something,” says Euille, who turns 61 on May 3. As the mayor kept up his exercise regimen of 20 to 30 minutes on the elliptical machine, another 15 to 20 minutes on the treadmill, and 200 crunches a day, he invited other YMCA members to join what he called the Mayor’s Challenge. “All members, young and old, were signing up left and right to outdo me,” Euille recalls.
After six months, he had lost another 20 or so pounds. But instead of admiring his slimmer body, friends and family members expressed concern. “Are you sick?” a friend asked. Another said, “Have you been to the doctor?”
But Euille ignored their comments. There was still another area in his life he needed to address—his ice-cream-stocked freezer.
“I was an ice-cream fanatic,” says Euille, who after a long day at the office would come home and eat a half gallon of the frozen stuff. “My freezer looked like a Good Humor truck.”
As much as it pained him, Euille knew he had to enact some serious portion control in his life. “I had to cut back on the ice cream,” he says. “And I couldn’t eat a full bag of chips in one sitting and drink two beers.”
As someone who may have as many as four events to attend in one day, Euille trained himself to refrain from eating hors d’oeuvres at every single one. “I’ll just munch on something at the last two events,” he says. “I still get to eat all the things I like, but in proportions.”
Soon he noticed he kept “slipping and sliding” in his shoes while training. His trainer explained he was losing weight in his feet. “I couldn’t believe you could lose fat in your feet and around your ankles,” Euille says.
It didn’t stop there. By the end of his challenge, in addition to new shoes, Euille needed a whole new wardrobe. He had lost 60 pounds. His neck was three and a half inches thinner, his waist seven inches slimmer, and his BMI had dropped to 19—the “normal weight” category.
Euille finally felt comfortable urging Alexandrians to live healthier lives. In 2009, he signed the city up for the 50 Million Pound Challenge, a national initiative led by Dr. Ian Smith of VH1’s “Celebrity Fit Club” for communities to join together and take control of their health. The mayor partnered with the “Get Healthy Alexandria” Leadership Team to raise community awareness about healthy living. A few times during the year, the city holds Walk a Hound, Lose a Pound, an event in which participants walk homeless animals for a mile and a half around Market Square.
Euille says he feels just as good as he did when he first dropped those 60 pounds six years ago: “It takes commitment. And everyone expected me to put the weight back on. But my body got used to it.”
Even when he tore his patellar tendon and dislocated his kneecap after falling on the Metro, he had fewer worries than he would have had before. His surgeon told him: “Because you’re so physically fit, you’ll recover easily.”
Euille healed from his surgery two and a half months ahead of schedule.
Despite his demanding workload, the mayor still devotes at least 30 minutes to an hour a day to exercise. On good days, he’ll squeeze in one morning workout and another in the afternoon.
Says Euille: “There were before and after pictures of me at the Y, and people would say, ‘That’s not you!’ I tell them, ‘Yeah, that was never me. I’m a brand-new person.’ ”